Introduction: Restore a Rusted Shut Tool

Picture of Restore a Rusted Shut Tool
Here is a simple and cheap way to restore a tool that has become hopelessly rusted from exposure to the elements.

Step 1: Supplies

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apple cider vinegar (white vinegar may work as well, though I haven't tried it yet)

salt  (not sure if this is entirely necessary - but I know it works well for cleaning pennies in concert with the vinegar)

plastic dish big enough to submerge the rusted parts of the tool

old toothbrush

Step 2: Submerge the Tool in Vinegar

Picture of Submerge the Tool in Vinegar

place the rusted part of the tool in the dish

pour in enough vinegar to submerge the rusted parts

Step 3: Add Salt

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apply salt liberally over the whole area

Step 4: Check on It Tomorrow

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Leave the tool in the mixture for 24 hours

Step 5: Brush

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After a day has passed, look at the tool.  You should see a lot of rust flakes and debris in the solution.

Use the old toothbrush and scrub away the remaining deposits.

Step 6: Wiggle

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Try to work the tool.  You might feel it give a micrometer or so.  Work it a few times.  Resubmerge, Brush it a bit.  Let it sit in the solution again for a bit.  Wiggle it some more.  Brush, repeat.   It should before long suddenly break free from being stuck.  Wiggle, brush and resubmerge a few more times.

If that doesn't work, maybe leave it another 24 hours.  But this treatment should be enough to get it back into working order.

Step 7: Blot, Dry, Oil

Picture of Blot, Dry, Oil
Rinse the tool and then blot up any excess water or vinegar you can and then set the tool in a warm place to dry.

Give it few drops of oil and work it to help keep it from getting rusty again.  Not sure what kind of oil is appropriate here, I had this 3-in-1 oil handy so I used it.  Some commenters are swearing by WD40.   Some people are saying that WD40 is green, however, it looks to be made of mostly petroleum products:

And, since everybody keeps  mentioning it:  another way achieve a similar result is with an electrolytic process.  If you have the facility to do that, more power to ya.


spiffy956 (author)2013-12-02

surprisingly using coke or diet coke will remove rust pretty well. A friend and I got a lot of it off of some really rusty wrenches and now they look great.

Blipet (author)spiffy9562016-02-02

Most soda drinks contain phospohoric acid (which is another reason why dentists don't like them). A can of Coke and a an old toothbrush also does really well and fast at cleaning off corroded automobile battery terminals.

mjb1963 (author)Blipet2016-04-27

Although Coke does have a high citric acid content it is the acid neutralizer that is responsible for cleaning battery terminals. Baking soda solution will clean as good or better in most cases. The powdery substance that builds on the terminals is acid from the battery that evaporates and is drawn to the terminals by static charge I believe is the term while being charged by the alternator.

It is not advisable to clean battery terminals this way how ever since the acid neutralizer can get inside the battery and neutralize the acid inside the battery and kill the battery or shorten it's life. Battery terminal cleaner brushes are cheap and easy to use and a lot less messy.

P.S. I have tried other brands of soda pop and Coke is the only one that has any effect on battery acid.

johnny3h (author)mjb19632017-09-21

In THEORY, any CARBONATED liquid is in effect dilute CARBONIC ACID, and thus will remove rust! It is not just the citric and/or Phosphoric
acid, as any combinations are powerful! AND, a really powerful 'derusting' agent is, wait for it...... KOOL-ADE!!! It's so strongly acidic, that it dissolves the enamel on teeth, and bleaches old concrete
back to its bright, new color!!!

JessicaD88 (author)spiffy9562016-04-02

How long would you have to have the tool sit in the Coke before noticing a clean change in color?

FrankenPaper (author)2016-03-14

Thank you for this instructable. I really appreciate that it uses vinegar and salt which I do have at home. Not using other (potentially unsafe) things that I don't have.

rafununu (author)2016-02-05

Vinegar works fine, specially if it's hot. I put it ALONE in a bowl for one minute in the microwave before using it, adding salt after. NO METAL IN THE MICROWAVE !

MrBillG59 (author)2016-02-02

Wait 'till it goes on sale.

I'll have to try vinegar & salt.


dkrall (author)2013-11-20

WD-40 spray or any other penetrating liquid works too.

foobear (author)dkrall2013-11-21

good 2 know - does it remove the rust as well? I don't happen to have any around - but I'll remember that

Blipet (author)foobear2016-02-02

It loosens the rust but discolors the steel. If you want to restore a clean finish, use a steel wire brush (hand brush or a bench grinder wire wheel) to remove the discoloration.

lunakid (author)foobear2013-12-01

Opposite to vinegar, WD40 is much better for preventing than removing rust.

MrBillG59 (author)2014-03-21

Have you tried EvapoRust?

Blipet (author)MrBillG592016-02-02

Yes, it works but costs $18 for a quart. Vinegar and salt cost much less and are already on hand in your kitchen cabinet.

cowboyathome (author)2015-12-23

antioch (author)2013-11-25

This is great. And much better than that horrible WD40.
Dillute the left-over vinegar with plenty of water and noone and nothing will come to harm.

I use WD40 only when there is absolutely no other way and only when it's really something that absolutely needs to get done.

Read the WD40 health warnings and go figure:
Inhalation (Breathing): May cause anesthesia, headache, dizziness, nausea and upper respiratory irritation.
Skin contact: May cause drying of skin and/or irritation.
Eye contact: May cause irritation, tearing and redness.
Ingestion (Swallowed): May caused irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
First Aid Emergency Procedures
Ingestion (Swallowed): Do not induce vomiting, seek medical attention.
Eye Contact: Immediately flush eyes with large amounts of water for 15 minutes.
Skin Contact: Wash with soap and water.
Inhalation (Breathing): Remove to fresh air. Give artificial respiration if necessary.If breathing is difficult, give oxygen.
Pre-existing medical conditions such as eye, skin and respiratory disorders may beaggravated by exposure.

Aspiration Hazard: If swallowed, can enter lungs and may cause chemical pneumonitis.
Do not induce vomiting. Call Physician immediately.

Machine (author)antioch2013-11-25

Thanks for letting us know about WD40. I had no idea the stuff was so bad. I use it very occasionally.

I'll use it very sparingly in future.

JackTin (author)Machine2013-11-25

From the MSDS for the 3-in-1 Motor Oil:

"Emergency Overview:
CAUTION! May cause mild eye irritation. Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause mild irritation and
defatting dermatitis. Avoid eye contact. Avoid prolonged or repeated contact with skin and clothing.

Symptoms of Overexposure:
Inhalation: High concentrations of oil mists may cause nasal and respiratory irritation.
Skin Contact: Prolonged and/or repeated contact may produce mild irritation and defatting with possible
Eye Contact: Contact may be mildly irritating to eyes. May cause redness and tearing.
Ingestion: This product has low oral toxicity. Swallowing may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea,
vomiting and diarrhea. Aspiration into the lungs during swallowing or vomiting may cause chemical

Medical Conditions Aggravated by Exposure: Preexisting eye, skin and respiratory conditions may be
aggravated by exposure."

Most of what's listed for WD-40 is there strictly because a lawyer said it needed to be. If used correctly (e.g. proper ventilation, no prolonged exposure, etc.), WD-40 won't harm you. Just don't huff it or swim in it and you'll be fine.

antioch (author)JackTin2013-11-25

"Fine" is way different. And not just because I don't think they just put these warnings on there because some lawyer said it.
I also won't be fine because I learned the difference a responsible way to handle resources and the environment can make. Just because I won't suffer immediate harm as long as I don't inhale or swim in it doesn't make this a good and safe fire-and-forget product in the last.

What I know for sure is that there are are products that come without the need for these warnings and I do remember a number of products that were considered safe only to cause horrific tragedies for the next generation or decades later. This goes even more for cancer-related issues where long-term causes are hard to pinpoint.

My area of being fine extends far beyond the outer layer of my skin.

jimmytvf (author)antioch2015-07-21

Vinegar could be dangerous too... lets make the example with the WD40 warnings

Inhalation (Breathing): Prolonged inhalation of vapors can cause irritation to respiratory tract

Skin contact: safe (vinegar)

Ingestion: safe (vinegar)

Eye contact: May cause irritation, tearing and redness

Vinegar is 5% acetic acid, if we take acetic acid as is, we got this:

antioch (author)jimmytvf2015-07-21

Yes, white vinegar does not occur naturally and not to be fooled around with. But basically, its only danger lies in its acidity. If you neutralize or dillute it just a little you can drink and shower in it.

antioch (author)antioch2013-11-25

(Hope this didn't sound too cranky or hysteric)

lunakid (author)JackTin2013-12-01

Hehe, thanks a lot for re-biasing it! :)

stecf (author)antioch2013-12-26

WD 40 is made with fish oil.

Tyler freeman (author)2015-07-20

My knife rusted even more is it because I didn't oil it?

127ice (author)2013-12-13

CLR is what you need.
Soak for a day or 2 and the rust will be gone.

TDWay (author)127ice2015-05-15

you can combine the electrolytic process with CLR and realy speed up the process, again do this in a will ventilated area and don't breath the vapors.

kaveh2 (author)2015-02-28

thanks.not only my father has a lot of old tools like this but also i have.this will be a great use to us.

Segeve (author)2014-11-30

White vinegar works. The acetic acid is what we're after, to attack the rust. Adding salt converts some of the acetic acid into hydrochloric acid (albeit diluted, since there's only 5% acetic acid in most vinegars for the salt to react with). HCl attacks rust a bit more aggressively than CH3COOH.

mrdan356 (author)Segeve2015-02-08

Can you use regular table salt?

Segeve (author)mrdan3562015-02-08


bruti56. (author)2015-01-19

WD 40 Contains grit which causes wear at joints .

spacesaver (author)2013-11-24

I,ve used WD-40 and 000 steel wool to refurb/clean older firearms. be liberal with the WD and wipe off frequently with some disposeable rags. Makes a helluva mess but has worked well for me.

bat159 (author)spacesaver2014-01-06

If the firearms are collectibles or antiques , PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, don't use steel wool or any abrasive on them. Part of the value in a collectible or antique weapon is the patina that develops on the steel as the weapon ages. Cleaning the patina, or even just wire-brushing the rust may destroy the value as a collectible.

wilson bill (author)2013-12-29

WD 40 is greener than salt. Why salt is used in the solution is beyond me since it will cause ferrous metals to rust.

foobear (author)wilson bill2013-12-31

mindbird (author)2013-12-29

WD 40 is said to be mostly fish oil, and CLR says it's environmentally safe, although I agree that vinegar must be safer.

skirmishmonkey (author)2013-11-24

Brilliant instructible. I always prefer a low cost, low tech solution. Vinegar and salt is also much better for the environment than other chemical solutions. I'm heading to the workshop now to derust my diving toolkit.

lunakid (author)skirmishmonkey2013-12-01

I adore the minimalism of it, too! Thanks, foobear!
Could you figure out if salt really makes any difference?

foobear (author)skirmishmonkey2013-11-24

yay! thank you!! post a before and after pic if you think of it

Ibanezfoo (author)2013-11-26

I just use Evaporust. It's cheap and reusable and "green" so you can pour it down the drain when you are done with it. You can pick it up at any hardware store. It's basically the same thing as CLR but more concentrated. Vinegar works better at getting what wite crusty stuff off your shower doors and shower head.

kz1 (author)2013-11-23

Electrolysis is a great rust removal technique. All you need is a piece of rebar, a five gallon bucket, baking soda, and a battery charger and you're good to go. It will neutralize the rust, won't damage the metal at all, and makes old metal look like new. Used it to refurb a rusted up corn sheller and the results were amazing. Now I have a 350 gallon electrolysis tank out back for bigger items. Hand me that bumper! :-)

alchemistdagger (author)kz12013-11-25

electrolysis is a great way to remove rust, i have used it before to clean a wrench i borrowed (don't want to give it back rusted). as described above, it just takes about 2 volts at minimum to start working. The electricity breaks apart the water into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen gets attracted to the negative wire where your rusted object is and it recombines with the oxygen in the rust, thus getting rid of the rust. you do have to be careful though, when the rust is gone (or almost all gone) you will start to get hydrogen penetrating into the metal and can cause cracking, so its not a set and forget process.

padbravo (author)kz12013-11-24

Could u explain a bit more?

Sounds interesting... things like:
what voltages? how many amps? how much baking soda per aqua part? wich side to connect the tools? (plus or minus)...


foobear (author)kz12013-11-24

lot of people are recommending that, it must be good

Machine (author)2013-11-25

Nice instructable. Thanks for showing us.

I've got some rusted hammers and wrenches, I'll try this.

pddonovan2011 (author)2013-11-24

This does work and I have done this in this fashion. But there is a faster way to do this as well. CLR comes in a Jell, now! Take a little bit and spread it on with any cheap brush as long as said brush is not plastic. Gently rub the rust away until it no longer coats the surface. Then I use Zepreserve from the Zep Chemical Company. I spray it all over the joint and place it in a tupperware and let it sit over night. The next morning I can work the piers loose and watch the rust run out the joint. I like to use equal parts of WD40, Dexron ATF and Synthetic Motor Oil, I use Royal Purple 5W-30. I have a one pound coffee can full to an inch from the top of the mixture. A week in the Mix and the tool will work like new and stay rust free for a very long time. I use the rest of the mix on ALL my hand tools and i makes a great air tool oil as well. Every time I pick-up an Air Tool, I squirt some in. Many of my Air Tools are over 15 years of age and still work like new, thanks to 'The Mix!' Working as a Mechanic, for 32 years, you earn what works fastest and last the longest. I use the mix to dean the mild steel work table top, it does not rust in an open air shop and it comes clean easier as well!

PaganRaven (author)2013-11-24

You done good, Foobear! Thanks for putting up this 'ible for others who might not have known how easy this really is! My husband and I always use this method, and's very good for those who use a hand can opener that gets nasty and rusted. Keep soaking it, scrubbing it - til it's clean and rust free. (usually doesn't take more than 24 hours) Only difference for a can opener, use mineral oil to rub it down afterwards. (gotta keep it food safe!)
We moved into a late 1800's house and even 3 years later - while working in the yard, my husband will find tools buried in the ground. Using this method, he has restored some great tools!
As for oil on tools, he has used linseed oil but what you have used is just as good.
By the way, white vinegar does work too and might be a bit cheaper in the long run.

good post


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